Saturday, November 06, 2004

for parents - about the MPAA and the upcoming lawsuits

While we are always unhappy to see anyone sued, especially young people, the MPAA has shown an incredible amount of restraint and patience in this matter. They have developed awareness messaging delivered in movie theaters, on television and in print media. They have educated universities and colleges about the piracy issues and have helped them create policies for acceptable use of institutional computer networks. They have delivered an extensive full-page advertisement awareness campaign “You Can Click But You Can’t Hide,” and have begun programs for in-school educational efforts on this important issue. And more will come. But without enforcement actions, unfortunately, education and awareness only go part of the way.

The MPAA has convinced me that they had no choice but add lawsuits to their arsenal of anti-piracy tactics. These lawsuits are a last resort and only a small part of the whole anti-piracy campaign. Sadly, without them, many young people who are stealing motion pictures before they even hit the movie theaters, will continue to steal movies thinking that they have nothing to lose. These law suits and other enforcement efforts will, hopefully, demonstrate that they have a lot to lose by breaking the law. As important as teaching our youth to surf safely and avoid online predators and harmful content is teaching them to be responsible cybercitizens.

Few were as vocal in opposition to the actions of the RIAA as I was. I felt that they had misused a legal loophole, which has since been closed with our help and the help of many privacy advocates and Internet service providers. I also understood the confusion over music downloads, where many young people couldn’t understand why they were not sued for recording music from radio broadcasts, but could be sued for downloading music from the Internet. I wrote a guide for parents and another for teens about downloading music online. I published an FAQ addressing the confusing issues. But movies are different.

I have consistently been vocal on an important distinction between the music piracy debate and motion picture piracy.

Working with thousands of young people, we learned that all of them knew that downloading a motion picture pre-theater release is wrong and is illegal. It feels wrong as well. They don’t readily admit to movie piracy and are often ashamed to admit that they have pirated movies. Notwithstanding the lawsuits and huge awareness campaigns delivered by the RIAA, many young Internet users either don’t understand the fine points of listening versus copying, or feel as though they should be allowed to share music online. To them it doesn’t yet feel wrong, and they are open about their music piracy practices. They seek ways of not getting caught, rather than curtailing their piracy activities.

While seeking input from some of my elite Teenangels ( for an article being written for Information Week magazine last year about youth movie piracy, I was shocked to learn that several of the young teens from this particular teenangels chapter admitted to downloading Harry Potter before it hit the movie theaters. Unlike their discussions about downloading music online, the teens wouldn’t meet my eyes. It didn’t take much to get them to agree never to pirate another movie. And, I suspect once we get them involved in delivering their own messages, we can turn this generation around, at least as to motion picture (and eventually software and game) piracy. And, like it or not, strategic law suits are a part of the incentive package needed to turnaround their movie piracy activities.

I earnestly hope that education and awareness will be effective enough that law suits won’t dominate this campaign to stop piracy. But as parents, we need to teach our children to be accountable for their actions. We need to teach them to do what’s right, not just what they can get away with. We need to encourage them to be good citizens, online and offline. Bottomline, it’s not about technology, or even lawsuits, it’s about parenting and helping guide our children to do what’s right.

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